League gives young Donegal talent great chance to shine

THE SPORTING DIARY with Peter Campbell

League gives young Donegal talent great chance to shine

Exciting league ahead

What better place to start. Kerry are coming to O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny to get the National League up and running.

Apart from Tyrone, it seems that most teams in the 2017 League will be in experimental mode.

Donegal have been forced down that road because of retirements and players opting out. It was a road that was probably on the cards anyway, although I’m sure there would be places for Odhrán Mac Niallais, Anthony Thompson if they had not opted out. And then there’s Leo McLoone - whatever the reason for his absence, it is Donegal’s loss. At 27 years of age, he is in his prime.

It all means that a bigger number than probably expected of the younger brigade will see plenty of action in the next couple of months. Eoghan Bán Gallagher is almost a regular; Ciaran Thompson will get the chance to stake a championship claim; Paul Brennan seems to have made an impact with his robust and no-nonsense style. Indeed, it may have been a mistake not to bring him in last summer when he could have done a job in the championship.

His Bundoran namesake, Jamie Brennan, will also get a big opportunity; as will the likes of Michael Langan, Jason McGee, Michael Carroll, Caolan McGonigle and Conor Morrison. Some of this group probably have work to do in the physical department, but they can put their hand up for summer work.

It will be good to see Caolan Ward get a reasonable chance. And it will be nice to see him make his first league start on his home pitch in O’Donnell Park.

Just looking at the starting team for last Sunday’s final challenge game against Mayo, it was striking to see how many of the old guard who were missing. Thankfully, there are two natural leaders left at both ends of the field. Neil McGee will have memories of Austin Stack Park, Tralee and a bloody nose.

At the other end, Michael Murphy has survived a week playing rugby with the big boys in Clermont Avergne. Might have been better for him to change places with some of the front men at his beloved Liverpool. He could have done better than any of their strikers in January! And that wouldn’t have extended him!

There was a telling statistic in the Irish Independent on Wednesday regarding Murphy and Donegal. The Glenswilly man has only missed one of Donegal’s last 31 league games (and that because of suspension). Some record.

We can only imagine what it will be like when he hangs up those boots.

With others like Paddy McGrath, the McHughs, Patrick McBrearty, Hugh McFadden, Martin O’Reilly, Frank McGlynn all available, there is a good balance of youth and experience. It is up to the likes of these players to mould the younger players into the group and give them the confidence. Each game will bring new challenges for these players and Donegal’s future is dependent on them learning from each game.

It can be an exciting time!

Harps gearing up for new season

There weren't too many out to watch Tuesday night's pre-season friendly at Maginn Park in Buncrana as the Inishowen League's Oscar Traynor Cup team played Finn Harps.

On a bitterly cold night, the two teams served up a decent spectacle and given that it was Harps' first outing of pre-season, one would have expected to see more Harps fans in attendance.

Still, those that did get to see the game will no doubt have been impressed by the performances of the new additions to the squad.

Stephen Kenny, in his interview with the Democrat last week, pointed to the arrival of Ciaran O'Connor (on loan from Dundalk) and Danny Morrissey (from Cork City) - and suggested that there will be goals in the Harps team this season.

If Tuesday night's display by the new front pairing is anything to go by, Kenny could be spot-on. The two players were replaced at half time, but by then, they'd shown enough to impress.

From what I'm told, O'Connor looks a real livewire and really stood out alongside Morrissey. They got the goals in the 2-1 win.

Harps now have three weeks to continue their preparations ahead of the visit of Cork City to Finn Park on Friday, February 24th.

They play a number of friendlies between now and then - their next game is against Longford Town on Saturday.

Whether or not Horgan is able to add to his panel between now and February 24th remains to be seen. By all accounts, those players who have come in, are already settling in well.